In a major victory for grassroots school activists, a bill reforming CPS facilities planning and school closing procedures passed the General Assembly yesterday.
SB 620 passed the House unanimously and the Senate by a vote of 59 to 1.
The bill will require CPS to create a ten-year facilities master plan and a longterm capital spending plan, along with a detailed annual capital budget. “This will allow the public and elected officials to ‘follow the money,'” points out Jackie Leavy in a post on the PURE  blog.
CPS must issue minimum facility standards, so some schools aren’t left in utter neglect while capital funds flow to political favorites.
The bill requires CPS to give notice of school closings and other actions by December 1 of each year, reflecting a longstanding complaint from parents that school closings were announced long after deadlines had passed for schools that require applications.
It will require three hearings for each school where action is proposed, including two in the community – and it requires 30 days notice for the hearings. As PURE’s Julie Woestehoff points out, hearings have typically been called with very little notice.
It will require a transition plan for all students in school closings.
In her post, Woestehoff alludes to the long history behind this effort, spearheaded for years by Jackie Leavy at the Neighborhood Capital Budget Group. A staunch advocate for accountability who is widely admired among Chicago’s grassroots activists, Leavy shepherded the work of the legislative task force which studied CPS facilities planning and recommended the principles behind SB 620.
The impetus for the bill grew as communities confronted annual closings – and growing inequities in capital spending — motivated by the scramble for buildings set off by Renaissance 2010. (In its very last meeting this week — in the face of a massive deficit, with a new round of teacher layoffs likely — Mayor Daley’s school board approved over $12 million to renovate two buildings for Urban Prep Charter campuses, Catalyst  reports.)
The legislative sponsors, Rep. Cynthia Soto and Sen. Irene Martinez, responded to their constituents’ complaints after thriving neighborhood schools in their districts were closed to make way for Renaissance 2010 schools.
Another impetus was legal action by the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, which charged that Ren 2010 closings violated a 1999 court agreement (in Salazar v. Edwards ) by displacing homeless children.
CCH pushed for transitional services and other opportunities for all children in schools that were being closed; CPS would agree only for homeless children, said CCH’s Laurene Heybach. The new legislation extends those protections to all children.